The Ark Encounter, a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, is 150 yards long and 85 feet wide.

The Bible says Noah lived 950 years, so he probably stopped being surprised somewhere around his 500th birthday. But even he might raise his eyebrows at what’s going on near Williamstown, Ky., about an hour south of Cincinnati. Looming over the rolling, rural landscape is a huge wooden ship, beached hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.

Noah’s Ark.

“It’s the only really authentic replica built according to the dimensions in the Bible,” says Ken Ham, who is building it as president and CEO of Answers In Genesis, which also built the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky.

The gates will open July 7 for 40 days and 40 nights of events. But Ham and AIG Co-Founder Mark Looy gave Cincy Magazine a preview tour. And it was immediately clear that this Ark is a project of Biblical proportions.

As local politicians, press and visitors struggled to describe what they saw, words were too feeble. “Big” was several sizes too small. “Huge” sounded merely medium. Analogies to a cruise ship or a supertanker got closer.

Standing next to the Ark is a bit like hiking through a forest of Sequoias—there’s an uneasy feeling that the world has lost its scale and puny humans have stumbled into a lost world of giants.

At its highest point where the stem of the bow points to the clouds, the Ark is 10 stories tall. From nose to rudder, it stretches 150 yards long and 85 feet wide—the biggest timber-frame structure in the world, using more than 3 million board feet of lumber.

Spruce logs used for interior support are so huge two men can hardly reach their arms around them. The sides of the ark are covered in New Zealand pine that was treated in the Netherlands and milled in North Carolina. The floors are bamboo.

There will be a petting zoo, an auditorium, a gift shop and an antediluvian walled city. A roof deck will showcase a 600-seat, $2 million restaurant, which Ham calls, “The most unique restaurant in the world. There are not too many places where you can have a meal on top of Noah’s Ark.”

When finished, the Ark will cost about $110 million

“We have zero in-state and federal money,” Ham emphasizes, anticipating critics who protest the Ark. “Not one dime. And 80 percent of our visitors are from outside Ohio and Kentucky, bringing all that new money in.”

AIG won a court battle to be eligible for a state tourism tax incentive. If it’s approved, sales taxes on Ark tickets, gifts and food sales would be returned annually for 10 years. But that is often mistakenly reported as state contribution or subsidy. In fact, it doesn’t cost the state anything. There would be no tax revenues without the Ark.

“It’s a sales-tax rebate,” says Julie Kirkpatrick, vice president of sales and marketing at the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The state is not really losing anything at all. I think it’s poorly understood. They are bringing new money into the state of Kentucky.”

She says similar incentives were used by Newport on the Levee and Bourbon Country attractions. “From the visitors and attraction standpoint, the Ark makes sense under the state’s guidelines,” she says.

And the economic benefits more than compensate for a tax rebate. The Creation Museum draws 300,000 tourists annually and AIG expects that will increase to at least 1.4 million with the Ark Encounter. Market studies predict $4 billion and 20,000 jobs for the regional economy over the next 10 years, Ham says, as the rising Ark lifts all boats. Many families stay several days, and visit other regional attractions promoted by AIG, from the Newport Aquarium to the Dayton Air Force Museum.

Kirkpatrick has looked at the numbers and shares the optimism. “We anticipate a big summer for this attraction. We’re very excited at how it is parlaying across the region. Come for the Ark, stay for the Zoo, the Reds—stay in the market as long as you can.

“The research is strong, predicting 1.2 million to 2.2 million visitors, but even just 1 million new visitors would benefit the whole Northern Kentucky, Central Kentucky and Cincinnati region. The hotel community is very excited. Boone County, Erlanger, Fort Wright, Florence—all of those hotels are going to benefit from a lift.”

And so will state and local governments.

Boone County Judge Executive Gary Moore says three new hotels are on the way in his county, with a fourth being planned. “We think most of the visitors will use Florence restaurants and hotels. There is definitely a regional economic effect.”

Ham says the Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati region was chosen because it’s “close to the airport and accessible within a one-day drive for two-thirds of the people in the United States.”

As sure as Noah predicted rain, the Ark will draw more protests. The critics said the Creation Museum would be a flop. Wrong. They said the Ark was subsidized by state money. Wrong again. And now they are outraged that the Ark Encounter will ask employees to sign a statement of faith. A federal judge ruled it is allowed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The religious exemption lets the Ark Encounter reject non-Christian employees.

By now, Ham is used to being mocked and underestimated. “They think a Christian organization can’t accomplish something like this,” he says, waving a hand at the towering Ark behind him.

Ham and AIG have tapped into a strong demand for theme parks (zip-lines, petting zoos, dinosaurs) with Bible-based messages (Creation and the Flood) that appeal to families whose faith is fundamental to their lives.

But skeptics scoffed at Noah, too. The storybook version has him herding raccoons, elephants and giraffes, two-by-two, up the gangplank of a big houseboat—raising the obvious question: “How could they all fit?”

That will not be a common question at the gigantic Ark Encounter. More likely the questions will be: “How did Noah build something this big without Home Depot?”

The Ark Encounter used loaders, earth movers, backhoes, cranes, boom lifts, power saws, generators and 200 workers, including 70 Amish craftsmen from Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, skilled in timber-frame construction and devout believers in the mission. Each slice of the ark—called a “bent”—weighs 25 tons. How did Noah do it without power tools and hydraulic cranes?

“Nobody knows what tools Noah had,” says Ham. “We have a tendency to assume that people who came before us were not as smart or as good as us. I’d say they were more intelligent than us. There is no reason to believe they did not achieve a high level of technical sophistication. Look at the stone structures in South America. How did they do that? We don’t know. Look at the pyramids. We can’t even answer that.”

Or look at the Bible. It says, “With God, all things are possible.” And someone who lived 950 years had plenty of time. After all, the blueprints were by God, and his Son was a pretty good carpenter.

This much is certain: It’s easy to believe the Ark Encounter will be one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions this summer.